Climbing to New Heights

Everything was on track for Morgan Pearson. She had just started her first year as a veterinary medicine student at Iowa State University. Her love of competition was satisfied with her triathlon events.

Then she lost control of her bike on a training run and things changed.

“My front of my bike malfunctioned and I ended up breaking both arms,” Pearson said. “I had to go on medical leave and delay classes for a year. I had casts on both arms and had to figure out how to use my hands again.”

The typical prescription for that recovery is physical rehabilitation. Being the adventurous sort, Pearson went an entirely different route.

“I got into climbing kind of on a whim,” she said, “and immediately got addicted to it.”

The competitive juices started flowing again and Pearson decided if she was going to spend all this time climbing, she should enter competitions. She soon found out she was pretty good at it.

Pearson won the women’s beginners division at the ISU Boulder Bash, the very first climbing competition she entered. She’s been on a roll ever since.

This spring she competed again in the ISU Boulder Bash, winning the advanced division this year. Only that’s not the whole story.

“I was the only woman who entered so I decided to compete against the men,” Pearson said, “and I wound up finishing first.”

From there, Pearson won the “sport” division at the Heartland Collegiate Regional held last March in Indianapolis. That victory propelled her to the U.S. Collegiate Nationals in late April in Houston, where she finished 19th.

Not bad for someone who just took up the sport two years ago in an effort to be able to use her hands once again.

“I was really excited about my finish,” said Pearson, now a third-year veterinary medicine student. “But I have bigger plans.”

Those plans include continuing entering competitions. There are three disciplines in competitive climbing – speed, bouldering and sport. Pearson competes in the bouldering and sport divisions, training both on campus and at Climb Iowa in Grimes.

In the speed division, a climber is harnessed and goes up a taller route, roping themselves through carabiners with a belay below. Climbers are judged on the difficulty of the routes they climb and whether or not they complete their climb.

Pearson says climbing instills a sense of calm and balance she doesn’t get as a vet med student.

“Climbing allows me to relax,” she said. “It helps me focus more when I’m studying. I can tell I do better after a workout.”

Climbing has become so much a part of Pearson’s life that she says she has to force herself to stay away from the gym. Still, she estimates she is climbing at least five times a week and more in the summer when she trains outdoors.

The past two years, Pearson has been a summer scholar at Colorado State University where she is on a team conducting feline virology research. She enjoys the work and it affords her the opportunity to climb the mountains of Colorado.

All her training and competitions is leading Pearson to 2020 when she hopes to qualify for the U.S. international climbing team. That same year, the sport will make its Olympic debut.

Two years ago, that would have seemed a daunting task. But in those two years, Pearson has taken up the sport, blown away her local competition regardless of gender, and placed nationally in the top 20.

Who knows what she can accomplish with another two years of climbing under her belt.